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Abstract:Large language models (LLMs) have shown high agreement with human raters across a variety of tasks, demonstrating potential to ease the challenges of human data collection. In computational social science (CSS), researchers are increasingly leveraging LLM annotations to complement slow and expensive human annotations. Still, guidelines for collecting and using LLM annotations, without compromising the validity of downstream conclusions, remain limited. We introduce Confidence-Driven Inference: a method that combines LLM annotations and LLM confidence indicators to strategically select which human annotations should be collected, with the goal of producing accurate statistical estimates and provably valid confidence intervals while reducing the number of human annotations needed. Our approach comes with safeguards against LLM annotations of poor quality, guaranteeing that the conclusions will be both valid and no less accurate than if we only relied on human annotations. We demonstrate the effectiveness of Confidence-Driven Inference over baselines in statistical estimation tasks across three CSS settings--text politeness, stance, and bias--reducing the needed number of human annotations by over 25% in each. Although we use CSS settings for demonstration, Confidence-Driven Inference can be used to estimate most standard quantities across a broad range of NLP problems.

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Authors:Tijana Zrnic

Abstract:We introduce PPBoot: a bootstrap-based method for prediction-powered inference. PPBoot is applicable to arbitrary estimation problems and is very simple to implement, essentially only requiring one application of the bootstrap. Through a series of examples, we demonstrate that PPBoot often performs nearly identically to (and sometimes better than) the earlier PPI(++) method based on asymptotic normality$\unicode{x2013}$when the latter is applicable$\unicode{x2013}$without requiring any asymptotic characterizations. Given its versatility, PPBoot could simplify and expand the scope of application of prediction-powered inference to problems where central limit theorems are hard to prove.

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Abstract:Inspired by the concept of active learning, we propose active inference$\unicode{x2013}$a methodology for statistical inference with machine-learning-assisted data collection. Assuming a budget on the number of labels that can be collected, the methodology uses a machine learning model to identify which data points would be most beneficial to label, thus effectively utilizing the budget. It operates on a simple yet powerful intuition: prioritize the collection of labels for data points where the model exhibits uncertainty, and rely on the model's predictions where it is confident. Active inference constructs provably valid confidence intervals and hypothesis tests while leveraging any black-box machine learning model and handling any data distribution. The key point is that it achieves the same level of accuracy with far fewer samples than existing baselines relying on non-adaptively-collected data. This means that for the same number of collected samples, active inference enables smaller confidence intervals and more powerful p-values. We evaluate active inference on datasets from public opinion research, census analysis, and proteomics.

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Abstract:We present PPI++: a computationally lightweight methodology for estimation and inference based on a small labeled dataset and a typically much larger dataset of machine-learning predictions. The methods automatically adapt to the quality of available predictions, yielding easy-to-compute confidence sets -- for parameters of any dimensionality -- that always improve on classical intervals using only the labeled data. PPI++ builds on prediction-powered inference (PPI), which targets the same problem setting, improving its computational and statistical efficiency. Real and synthetic experiments demonstrate the benefits of the proposed adaptations.

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Abstract:While reliable data-driven decision-making hinges on high-quality labeled data, the acquisition of quality labels often involves laborious human annotations or slow and expensive scientific measurements. Machine learning is becoming an appealing alternative as sophisticated predictive techniques are being used to quickly and cheaply produce large amounts of predicted labels; e.g., predicted protein structures are used to supplement experimentally derived structures, predictions of socioeconomic indicators from satellite imagery are used to supplement accurate survey data, and so on. Since predictions are imperfect and potentially biased, this practice brings into question the validity of downstream inferences. We introduce cross-prediction: a method for valid inference powered by machine learning. With a small labeled dataset and a large unlabeled dataset, cross-prediction imputes the missing labels via machine learning and applies a form of debiasing to remedy the prediction inaccuracies. The resulting inferences achieve the desired error probability and are more powerful than those that only leverage the labeled data. Closely related is the recent proposal of prediction-powered inference, which assumes that a good pre-trained model is already available. We show that cross-prediction is consistently more powerful than an adaptation of prediction-powered inference in which a fraction of the labeled data is split off and used to train the model. Finally, we observe that cross-prediction gives more stable conclusions than its competitors; its confidence intervals typically have significantly lower variability.

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Abstract:When predictions are performative, the choice of which predictor to deploy influences the distribution of future observations. The overarching goal in learning under performativity is to find a predictor that has low \emph{performative risk}, that is, good performance on its induced distribution. One family of solutions for optimizing the performative risk, including bandits and other derivative-free methods, is agnostic to any structure in the performative feedback, leading to exceedingly slow convergence rates. A complementary family of solutions makes use of explicit \emph{models} for the feedback, such as best-response models in strategic classification, enabling significantly faster rates. However, these rates critically rely on the feedback model being well-specified. In this work we initiate a study of the use of possibly \emph{misspecified} models in performative prediction. We study a general protocol for making use of models, called \emph{plug-in performative optimization}, and prove bounds on its excess risk. We show that plug-in performative optimization can be far more efficient than model-agnostic strategies, as long as the misspecification is not too extreme. Altogether, our results support the hypothesis that models--even if misspecified--can indeed help with learning in performative settings.

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Abstract:We initiate a principled study of algorithmic collective action on digital platforms that deploy machine learning algorithms. We propose a simple theoretical model of a collective interacting with a firm's learning algorithm. The collective pools the data of participating individuals and executes an algorithmic strategy by instructing participants how to modify their own data to achieve a collective goal. We investigate the consequences of this model in three fundamental learning-theoretic settings: the case of a nonparametric optimal learning algorithm, a parametric risk minimizer, and gradient-based optimization. In each setting, we come up with coordinated algorithmic strategies and characterize natural success criteria as a function of the collective's size. Complementing our theory, we conduct systematic experiments on a skill classification task involving tens of thousands of resumes from a gig platform for freelancers. Through more than two thousand model training runs of a BERT-like language model, we see a striking correspondence emerge between our empirical observations and the predictions made by our theory. Taken together, our theory and experiments broadly support the conclusion that algorithmic collectives of exceedingly small fractional size can exert significant control over a platform's learning algorithm.

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Abstract:We introduce prediction-powered inference $\unicode{x2013}$ a framework for performing valid statistical inference when an experimental data set is supplemented with predictions from a machine-learning system. Our framework yields provably valid conclusions without making any assumptions on the machine-learning algorithm that supplies the predictions. Higher accuracy of the predictions translates to smaller confidence intervals, permitting more powerful inference. Prediction-powered inference yields simple algorithms for computing valid confidence intervals for statistical objects such as means, quantiles, and linear and logistic regression coefficients. We demonstrate the benefits of prediction-powered inference with data sets from proteomics, genomics, electronic voting, remote sensing, census analysis, and ecology.

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Abstract:Causal graph discovery and causal effect estimation are two fundamental tasks in causal inference. While many methods have been developed for each task individually, statistical challenges arise when applying these methods jointly: estimating causal effects after running causal discovery algorithms on the same data leads to "double dipping," invalidating coverage guarantees of classical confidence intervals. To this end, we develop tools for valid post-causal-discovery inference. One key contribution is a randomized version of the greedy equivalence search (GES) algorithm, which permits a valid, finite-sample correction of classical confidence intervals. Across empirical studies, we show that a naive combination of causal discovery and subsequent inference algorithms typically leads to highly inflated miscoverage rates; at the same time, our noisy GES method provides reliable coverage control while achieving more accurate causal graph recovery than data splitting.

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Abstract:We construct a zeroth-order gradient estimator for a smooth function defined on the probability simplex. The proposed estimator queries the simplex only. We prove that projected gradient descent and the exponential weights algorithm, when run with this estimator instead of exact gradients, converge at a $\mathcal O(T^{-1/4})$ rate.

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